The Appearance Of Being Strong

We’re more than two and a half years into our journey. For a third of my son’s life, he’s lived with seizures. It’s getting harder to remember the time before them. The carefree days before hospitals and therapies seems more like someone else’s life.
Our new life doesn’t feel like it is getting any easier, even being so far into it. There is no resolution. There are no reasons. There is no consistency except for the looming threat of another seizure. It is chaotic to manage his diet, his medicine, and his appointments. There is a never ending stream of complexities in our lives. On the good days, it feels like we’re barely treading water. On the bad days, it feels like we’re drowning.
We’ve met a lot of families that have been dealing with seizures much longer than we have. I look at them as if they are the strongest people in the world, dealing admirably with such an impossible path. They somehow figured out how to manage the unmanageable. Their perspective keeps them sane and grounded and able to function in such a complex system. I’ve often wondered if we would find that place, and if someone on the outside would think the same thing about us.
I keep waiting for a switch to flip, for that “a ha” moment where the mystery of how to navigate this life is explained. So far, it hasn’t happened and it’s frustrating. I’m a smart guy. I figured out how to ride a bike, drive a car, program a computer and build a robot. But there is no pattern in what is happening. There’s nothing for my mind to organize around and to sort out. We are in a constant state of reaction with very little that we can control.
The lack of control and my inability to figure it out makes me feel like we’re not there yet. People around us use words like “strong”” and “brave” but I can’t let that in because I don’t believe it. Every seizure, every outburst, every failed medicine, every closed off path, every false hope. As much as I try to hide their impact from the outside world, it feels as if I wear them as visibly as I wear clothes. I’m only forcing myself to do what I need to do for my son and my family.
But, maybe, that’s what everyone else does, too.

Getting Unused To The Sound

We’ve lived almost every day of the last two and half years with the sound of my son having a seizure. Usually, in the early morning, the distinctive sound my son creates as his body tenses and contorts echoes through the halls until it reaches my ears and stirs me from my sleep. For two and a half years I have been on guard, listening for that sound that served as an alarm calling in the dark. I’ve spent most nights periodically waking to watch and listen to the video monitor. This has been our routine. This has been our life.
When his seizures started, I would rush to his room with every seizure and lay with him until he fell back to sleep. Sometimes I would catch another seizure when it started. It was somehow comforting being there with him when they happened, from beginning to end. To hold him, to rub his head, and to let him know that I was there and that it would be over soon and that he would be okay.
As time went on, my son started putting himself back to sleep before I could reach him. I started watching the monitor as he came out of a seizure to see if he needed me. More and more, he would simply turn over, pull the blankets back up to cover his body and fall back to sleep. As much as I liked being there with him during a seizure, the new arrangement gave me a few extra minutes of sleep.
In the last month, we’ve also been able to string together (we think) a few seizure-free days in a row. I say “we think” because some of his are so short that they are easy to miss, especially in the middle of the night. But on a few of those nights, he was with us and he did not seize. He even had his first seizure-free week since they began.
I felt like we turned a corner. We made the most recent change to his medications a few weeks before those seizure-free days and I almost let myself believe we had solved the riddle. But then my son got sick and we were again visited by our most unwelcome guest. He rides such a fine line between seizing and not that even a common cold can undo a streak.
Hearing seizures in the middle of the night had become such a part of our routine that, when they stopped, it was easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they were gone. I stopped thinking that a life without seizures was possible, but when we had a week without them, I was too quick to assume that they wouldn’t come back. I felt as if we had been lifted from this unforgiving place. When they did come back, I fell from such a great height that the impact nearly crushed my spirit.
As grateful as I was for those days without seizures, they tugged at my desperation. They opened me up at my seams and stuffed me with false hope before closing me off. Now I’m pulling at the stitches trying to free myself from unrealistic expectations.
The reality is that the sound of a seizure will be a part of our acoustic landscape as long as our son is living with us. Even if we see another stretch of seizure-free days, the threat of another will always be there. There is no escaping its reach, no getting unused to the sound. The only thing I can do is respond when the alarm sounds, which I will do whenever I am called.

Superman And Me

When I push through the huge revolving doors at my office, I undergo a transformation. Superman had his telephone booth where he changed from a reporter to the Man of Steel. I have a spinning wall of metal and glass where I morph from the father of a kid with epilepsy in to the Man of PowerPoint.

epilepsy parenting family work superman

Once I step to the other side, I hide my true identity. No matter how little sleep I got the night before or many seizures my son had that morning, I smile at the guards as I pass through security. I say ‘Good morning‘ to my fellow passengers in the elevator and the people I pass in the hall. Inside the walls of my own Daily Planet, I separate my two lives and only show the person that my colleagues expect to see.

The thing about leading two lives is that they are impossible to separate. Clark Kent doesn’t stop being Superman when he wears his glasses. Both identities share the same thoughts and emotions and super powers. He thinks about saving Metropolis while sitting at his desk. He listens for the call of someone who needs him while he grabs coffee in the breakroom. He can’t be one or the other when he is both, regardless of which mask he wears.

For an ordinary person, it’s exhausting maintaining this separation every day. On bad seizure days, I struggle to keep my focus on my work. My thoughts often find their way back to my son, wondering if the seizures have stopped or how he is doing in school. I check my phone constantly to see if I missed a call or a text from my wife letting me know that I am needed somewhere else. Superman only had a city to protect. My son is my world.

With every interaction, it takes energy to adjust my mask and ensure that it hides the turmoil inside. After a night without sleep, it’s especially difficult but there is no other option. I have to be able to focus on my work. My job is what pays the bills and provides us with health insurance. The weight of responsibility and the need to perform often feels like it would be too much even for Superman. And yet, somehow, this is my every day.

I don’t always succeed. There are days where it is all too much. Try as I might to hide it, pieces of my reality are visible to the outside world.

Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself
To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going
~Crash Test Dummies “Superman’s Song”

On those days, I do my best to carry on and keep going, too. I will myself to get to the end of the day so that I can go back through those revolving doors. When I step out onto the concrete, I start to undo my disguise. With every step that takes me closer to home, I shed the layers of my corporate costume. No longer needing to exert the energy to maintain my facade, I drop my mask to the ground.

As I take those last few steps up to our front door, I open myself up and let the joy and fear and hope and love wash over me. Turning the doorknob, I can already hear laughter from the other side of the door. Pushing the door open, I’m rewarded for my impossible effort during the day with “Daddy!” and I let out a cleansing exhale that I’ve held in all day.

This must be how Superman feels when he takes off his glasses at the end of the day. Finally, I can be who I am supposed to be.